Administrators, teachers, and students are not only missing an opportunity to set a standard but to meet the most essential standards as well.
On Thursday, August 21, the following message was released to parents of students in Edwardsville School District 7–a district roughly 30 miles outside Ferguson, MO.
Subject: Discussion of the Ferguson/Florissant Incident
On Friday, August 15, 2014, and Monday, August 18, 2014, Dennis Cramsey, EHS Principal, and I were inundated with calls from parents complaining that some EHS teachers were biased and injecting their own opinion regarding the shooting of Michael Brown, an 18 year-old African American student, by a Caucasian police officer in the Ferguson/Florissant community. The general consensus of parents who called was that if the administration did not get a handle on this situation, there might be violence among students occurring at EHS.
As Superintendent, I will take full responsibility for not preparing administrators and staff members how to deal with this volatile situation. As a result, on Monday afternoon, the decision was made to cease discussion of the event because of the tension, emotion, and anger surrounding the Ferguson/Florissant events.
It was not our intent to ignore the educational relevance of these events. However, we felt it was important to take the time to calm a potential situation at the high school and to prepare administrators and teachers to approach this critical issue in an objective, fact-based manner. Everyone has an opinion – the sharing of which can be polarizing. Far too many facts remain unknown, and without these facts, none of us is in the best position to moderate between opposing views.
Look, I get it. Even the most experienced teacher, at times, can find classroom discussions around sensitive issues difficult. Furthermore, Edwardsville School District 7’s population is predominantly white (over 80%), and so I further understand if there may be hesitancy to discuss a racially divisive issue when the majority student population is so skewed.
But in a moment when students want to talk, when young men among them likely feel the need to talk, the worst thing a District can do is shut down the conversation completely. Edwardsville is missing an opportunity to not only set a standard for discourse but also meet what might be the most important standards to which Illinois schools are held.
The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL)–the premiere research collaborative in regards to social emotional learning standards–is housed in none other than Illinois. In fact, Illinois was the first state to adopt Social Emotional Learning Standards for its students. These standards are the skills that underpin not only academic success but life success.
Here is a sampling of some of the Social Emotional Learning standards Edwardsville teachers are expected to teach to their students.
Standard 1A. Identify and manage one’s emotions and behavior
Standard 2A. Recognize the feelings and perspectives of others
Standard 2B. Recognize individual and group similarities and differences
Standard 2C. Use communication and social skills to interact effectively with others.
Standard 2D. Demonstrate an ability to prevent, manage, and resolve interpersonal conflicts in constructive ways
Standard 3A. Consider ethical, safety, and societal factors in making decisions
Since this is the Good Men Project, let’s focus on our young men for a moment. Imagine a discussions around the Ferguson issue where young men could identify what they are feeling (1A). Are they angry? Confused? Scared? How can they recognize and manage those emotions in productive ways with productive behaviors?
Certainly the death of Michael Brown and the resulting demonstrations in Ferguson provide ample opportunity to empathize with others (2A). To recognize why an individual or group of individuals may feel a certain way and have a certain perspective based upon their experiences. Our young men can step out of their roles and imagine what it must be like to lose a child. What it must be like to know you’ve killed a man. What it must be like to serve in law enforcement and place yourself in danger. Empathizing doesn’t mean they must agree with any one position–it means they can understand that position.
This divisive issue need not be divisive at all. In fact, Edwardsville teachers can help young men, especially young men from different cultural or ethnic backgrounds, that they have more in common as human beings than they do differences (2B). Furthermore, simply the act of sharing personal information with someone else, whether a similarity or a difference, lessens the chance that person will enact violence upon the other. Put simply, the more our young men know about a peer, the less likely they are to harm him/her.
The opportunities abound.
I mentioned Edwardsville not only has an opportunity to meet standards but to set a standard. The standard they can set is this. We care about our students so much that we are willing to discuss this important issue. We care about our students so much we are willing to hold accountable those teachers injecting their bias in student conversation. Most of all, we care about our students so much we are willing to capture this teachable moment, set aside the textbook, and teach what matters–the whole child.
Image credit: Soumyadeep Paul/flickr